C&C leaves bitter taste signalling virtue over minimum pricing

Caveat: Cider maker wants to look good to society but also to make more profit

Bulmers cider maker C&C has been a consistent supporter of and advocate for minimum unit pricing in Ireland since it was first mooted in 2013. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Bulmers cider maker C&C has been a consistent supporter of and advocate for minimum unit pricing in Ireland since it was first mooted in 2013. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Until the term was ruined by right-wing headbangers, “virtue-signalling” was useful as a descriptor for certain tendencies of the self-righteous gang who police everybody’s morals on social media. Members of this brain-deadening in-crowd often engage in silly gestures, such as tweeting their personal abhorrence about something or other, to conspicuously point to their righteousness; to signal to their tribe that they are virtuous. It can come across as terribly insecure.

A classic example over the last week has been the stampede of Irish men on Twitter lining up to admonish good-natured Irish football fans who were filmed cheering women coming out of a Victoria Secrets lingerie shop in Copenhagen, ahead of the first leg of the playoff against Denmark.

This was a hanging offence, apparently. The cheering wasn’t, the critics and signallers bleated, simply the typical, childish, fun-making behaviour of Irish football fans that anyone who has travelled abroad with them has witnessed. On the contrary, they were supposedly being sexist pigs, busy “harassing” and “belittling” women.

It didn’t matter a whit to the critics that most of the Danish women filmed coming out of the shop appeared to be completely in on the joke, especially the one who sashayed down the front steps twirling knickers over her head to a deafening roar from the Boys in Green. But the critics still piled in to signal their virtue and their righteousness.

It’s okay, guys (and the critics were overwhelmingly men). We get it. You needed to signal yourselves to the feminist movement and advertise that you are awoken, and that those beer-clutching football Neanderthals are not.

But, like the term “snowflake”, the accusation of “virtue-signalling”, brilliant as it is, must now be put out to pasture because of its overuse by alt-right fruitcakes. They throw it around like confetti at anybody making vaguely left-wing or liberal statements on Twitter. If you use the term too, you get incorrectly tarnished. Why must those alt-right dolts ruin everything? (You see? I’m virtue-signalling right now.)

Trojan horse

It isn’t just the Twittered who conspicuously signal their virtues. Companies do it, now, too. Except that businesses are nowhere near as good as it as millennials, and it can even come across as insincere or a Trojan horse for commercial self-interest.

Take the ongoing debate about the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The Government wants to introduce minimum unit pricing via the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill that was debated last week in the Seanad. Minimum unit pricing in this State is likely to be delayed until the Stormont government is revived and brings it in up North, to reduce any cross-Border distortion. But it is clearly on its way at some stage.

In Scotland, minimum unit pricing was delayed by a UK supreme court appeal from whisky producers, but they lost the case this week, clearing the way for it in Britain. The Bulmers/Magners cider maker C&C was out of the blocks like a hare on a Harley to welcome the decision, signalling its virtues by declaring that the measure would help reduce “harmful” and “irresponsible” drinking, etc, etc. This stance isn’t untrue, but still. . .

C&C has been a consistent supporter of and advocate for minimum unit pricing in Scotland (where it owns Tennents lager) since 2011, and in Ireland since it was first mooted here in 2013. We know because the company reminds us at every available opportunity, laying it on a bit too thick at times.

But is C&C’s motivation that it retains a righteous concern about the “social fabric” of communities, and it believes making cheap drink more expensive will help society? Or is it because minimum unit pricing will bring more profit?

In Ireland, the measure could add up to between 30 per cent and 50 per cent to the cost of the cheapest supermarket brand lagers and ciders. That is a clear commercial gain for C&C, whose competing drinks are higher-priced and more profitable. Minimum unit pricing may also drive some consumers back into pubs, where C&C’s brands will be waiting for them.

C&C is a listed company, and so must reveal more of itself to the markets than the general public. A few weeks ago, its chief executive, Stephen Glancey, told investors the company sees minimum unit pricing as an opportunity for “volume to be taken right out of the market” and “ultimately we think . . . it will put more profit back in the market”.

“We don’t see any commercial disadvantages at C&C to minimum pricing . . . We are significant investors in the independent free-trade, ie we invest in pubs . . . So, anything that moves the dial in terms of customers coming back to pubs is plainly good for our business,” he told investors in 2012.

A year later, C&C signed a letter to the Telegraph that spoke all about how minimum unit pricing would combat problem drinking, but made no mention that it would be more profitable. Last year, Glancey told a SocGen analyst in a conference call that, in Scotland, Tennents is a “must-stock” for retailers, “so we’d be pretty confident in our ability to optimise a value [from minimum unit pricing] one way or another for our business.”

So why doesn’t C&C just come right out and say to the public that it backs the measure because it will help its business make more profits and do more damage to its competitors? Ah. That wouldn’t signal the correct virtues.

C&C will understandably feel aggrieved at being singled out. After all, off-licence owners (delighted that minimum unit pricing will crush cheap supermarket competition) and publican groups (who believe it will bring back custom) have all also backed the measure, while unconvincingly maintaining their support was out of social concern.

But it was C&C assailing our inboxes this week with exhortations designed to signal its virtue. It’s okay, guys. We get it. You want to look good to society, but you also want make more money. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is best to just say it.

A plaque in the Vatican’s Pauline chapel, lists benefactors, including many prominent Irish names, who have helped finance a €9 million restoration that began in 2002.
A plaque in the Vatican’s Pauline chapel, lists benefactors, including many prominent Irish names, who have helped finance a €9 million restoration that began in 2002.

FOOTNOTES

Irish businessmen donate to Vatican chapel

Speaking of business people and virtue, I was especially tickled to learn from our religious-affairs correspondent, Patsy McGarry, that some of the biggest names in Irish business have helped to pay for the restoration of a 16th century church in Rome, near the Sistine chapel.

Our correspondent was wandering through the sacristy of the Vatican’s magnificent Pauline chapel, a private space where popes are known pray and home to frescoes by Michelangelo, when, lo, he spotted a plaque on the wall. It listed 26 benefactors, including many prominent Irish names who have helped finance a €9 million restoration of the church that began in 2002.

The Irish benefactors are: telecoms tycoon Denis O’Brien, property developers Paddy McKillen, Johnny Ronan and Seán Mulryan, and bankers or financiers Seán FitzPatrick, Michael Fingleton and Derek Quinlan.

Bless them.

Asian Gaelic Games set to kick off

And now for an update from our most easterly cumainn.

The annual Asian Gaelic Games take place this weekend in Bangkok, sponsored by fintech and payments group Fexco. The event will attract 65 clubs from all over Asia to play at a variety of levels in nine-a-side, 14 minute matches.

The games kick off tomorrow morning, but tonight (or is that this afternoon our time, given Bangkok is seven hours ahead?) the competition will be preceded by a networking event and dinner hosted by the Asia-Pacific Irish Business Forum.

More than 70 businesses are expected to attend the event, including Kerry Group, CRH and Citibank. Former minister for finance Ruairí Quinn will be among the speakers, alongside Brendan Rogers (no, not the football manager), who is Ireland’s Ambassador to Thailand and Myanmar.

Hopefully the attendees don’t consume too much SangSom, and are still able to make it up for the 8am start of the games on Saturday. Who could miss teams with such endearing names as Saigon Gaels (Vietnam), Suzhou Éire Óg (China), or my personal favourite, Daegu Fianna (South Korea)?

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